The Zionsville Community High School boys cross country team had just the right mix for its best finish in state finals history.
The Eagles finished second in the IHSAA state meet Oct. 29 with 106 points, just three more than state champion Carmel. The team’s best previous finish was seventh three times, 2009, 2018 and last year.
“We had a good combination of senior leadership, improvement from underclassmen and a year-long anticipation for this meet,” Eagles coach Gabe Porras said. “We knew we had potential to be a podium-type of team after state last year. The team worked real hard to have their best track seasons in program history and prepared well for this event. “
Depth was crucial to the Eagles’ success.
“Our team has many talented runners on the team that work very well together in practices as well as meets,” Porras said. “We have consistently had a 15-25 second spread between our one and five (runners) and that has been one of our strengths this year.”
Junior Sam Spees was the Eagles’ top finisher in 11th among teams competing for the team title and 15th overall with a time of 15 minutes, 45.1 seconds.
“Sam has the ability to step up in key meets,” Porras said. “He had his best race last year at the semistate, and in track at the sectional in the 3,200, to qualify for the regionals. This was another example of him exceeding expectations.”
Other runners scoring points for the Eagles were Ryan Handy, who finished 19th, 26th overall; senior Matthew Helton, 24th, 34th overall; sophomore Jack Turnbull, 25th, 35th overall; and junior Evan Mayo, 27th, 37th overall.
Porras said throughout the season, the team had several athletes step up.
“Sophomore Jack Turnbull improved 1:15 from his freshman season,” Porras said. “Ryan Handy and Matthew Helton both had their best place at state. Evan Mayo was 95 places better than last year (132nd to 37th).”
Porras said the team’s confidence has been good all season.
Zionsville captured sectional and regional titles at Ben Davis. The Eagles finished second in the Shelbyville Semistate with 66 points, five more than the winning Carmel team.
“After (the) Brown County (meet), where we had five runners under 15:50 and broke our team time record (15:40 avg., previous best was 16:07), we began to look beyond top five as a goal (at state),” Porras said. “After the semistate, our confidence grew even more. Our seniors have been integral parts of our team since their freshmen year. Matthew Helton ran at the state finals all four years, the second person in program history to do this, and Will Nobbe and Ryan Handy were both three-year state meet participants. All three were part of our middle school programs and have great work ethics. They make practice and have fun while working towards our goal. Our 18 seniors helped make the 69 members of the team feel welcome and celebrated all of our teammates’ successes in a great way.”
Porras said the class was one of the most successful in school history with state meet finishes of 12th, ninth, seventh and second.
Porras is optimistic with four returnees with state meet experience – Mayo, Spees, Turnbull and junior Elijah Bineyard, who have all broken 16 minutes — and five other athletes who have broken 17 minutes. Those runners are Michael Schilson, Elijah Weaver, Dominick Dell, Owen Haan and Joe Spees. There are nine others who broke 18 minutes this past season.